RoadResource 101: Educating Tomorrow's Engineers

Teaching Network Optimization at the Undergrad Level


Dr. Andrew Braham teaches pavement classes at the University of Arkansas. After shifts in perception and budget cuts across the country, there are very few civil engineering degrees that include education on pavement preservation at the undergraduate level. This presents a problem for tomorrow’s engineers.



The Gap in Higher Education


“Today, there is next to no hands-on work around preventative maintenance at the undergrad level.” Says Dr. Braham.


“I would be surprised if 50% of instructors even talk about it, much less have any sort of conversation or application of concepts. In general, if it’s in the curriculum, it’s brief. Maybe as much as saying ‘we have to do a better job [to maintain roads].”


After seeing the gap in higher education, it became clear to Dr. Braham that any industry efforts to promote progressive pavement maintenance ought to include efforts at the college-level. After all, each graduating class of civil engineers represents tomorrow’s roadway managers.



Educating Tomorrow's Engineers


In the fall of 2018, Braham’s civil engineering students began a project built on the tenets of preservation, recycling and reclamation. For the semester-long coursework, Braham assigned groups of students one preservation treatment and one rehabilitation/reconstruction treatment from the Treatment Resource Center on


“I wanted to make sure that each group was exposed to the concept of preservation and maintenance verses rehabilitating or reconstructing,” says Braham.


Students worked their way through the entire website in a series of 5 assignments. Starting with background information and benefits, students learned to apply treatments using real figures and scenarios from the ArDOT highway network.


“The project helped students to explore how their treatment behaved compared to the more conventional options out there,” says Braham.



Research Findings


In addition to teaching preservation and recycling, Braham used findings from the project to inform research of his own.


“After each assignment, I collected the bulk data and results.” He says, “A couple things really popped out. Using all that data, it was very clear that preservation saved literally tens of millions vs. conventional maintenance [defined as major mill & fill over 50 years].” He adds, “Using the ArDOT data, we quantified savings with these treatments.”


Dr. Braham was able to categorize or “bucket” treatments using their cost analysis, (examining data from the 2016 cost averages across the US and Canada).


“Many people struggle with the 18 different treatments,” he says. “We found 8 groups that treatments cluster into. One example is crack seal, fog seal, rejuvenating fog. Then in another bucket: chip, slurry, scrub. etc..”


Braham believes that by bucketing treatments into 8 groups, pavement managers are able to better understand application and cost. He says this understanding could help users of Pavement Management Systems (PMS) see reasoning behind each treatment recommendation and budget allocation.


In Braham’s words, “using simplified data, you can get some really interesting pictures and trends.”


Read Dr. Braham’s full report, “Exploring the Influence of Pavement Preservation, Maintenance, and Rehabilitation on Arkansas’s Highway Network: An Education Case Study” in the International Journal of Pavement Engineering.



A Spirited Conversation on Pavement Maintenance 


By the end of the semester, students in Braham’s class, Transportation Infrastructure, earned a usable understanding of disciplines and approaches to progressive pavement maintenance.


“At the end of the semester, I wasn’t lecturing on preservation,” says Braham. “The students already had the foundational concepts because of the project. Instead of a traditional lecture, we were having a spirited conversation on pavement maintenance.”


The biggest compliment, Braham says, was a student who reportedly brought up in a job interview. “The employer was really engaged in the conversation, and had not yet learned about the website. I think they were impressed [with the student’s knowledge]. We were able to give that student a way to bring up cutting-edge tools that portray important concepts. That’s great.” 201


This semester, Dr. Braham is facilitating a second course on pavement maintenance that incorporates In the follow up project, each student was assigned a group with four preservation techniques and two rehabilitation/reconstruction techniques [one from each of the 8 buckets]. Students were asked to optimize a network using these tools.


“What is really cool,” says Braham, “they’re starting with RSL [Remaining Service Life], then they put the results into CBV [Cost- Benefit Value]. After refining their network with the first two steps, they re-examine in RSL. By doing the loop, they are optimizing an extra step. It’s a way to reinforce decisions.” He adds, “It’s been a fun exercise to see where it goes. Exciting to see both tools leveraged at once.”



For Educators


Dr. Braham hopes that the projects he’s designed can be utilized for civil engineering courses everywhere. “The industry is working hard to promote the message of pavement preservation and recycling. It’s also important to start exposing students. As they start going into companies or agencies, they’ll be making the decisions in the future.”



Dr. Andrew Braham  If you are an educator interested in implementing Dr. Braham’s syllabus, contact him directly at